What Killed Brittanica

By Deane Barker on March 21, 2012

Wikipedia Didn’t Kill Britannica. Windows Did: An interesting look at what doomed Brittanica.  The authors argue that it wasn’t Wikipedia, but Encarta that did it in.

In 1990, the company had $650 million in revenue. In 1996, it was being sold off in toto for $135 million. What happened in between was Encarta.

[…] Encarta was an inexpensive, multimedia, not-at-all comprehensive encyclopedia that helped Microsoft sell Windows PCs to families. And once you had a PC in the living room or den where the encyclopedia used to be, it was all over for Mighty Britannica.

When Wikipedia emerged five years later, Britannica was already a weakened giant. It wasn’t a free and open encyclopedia that defeated its print edition. It was the personal computer itself.

I also read a couple of eulogies for Brittanica this morning that are worth looking at.  Both argue that it wasn’t the actual knowledge in Brittanica that provided the value, rather it was the organization of that knowledge – the ambitious drive to amass all off human knowledge into a single volume.